Archive for the ‘Paul Brandmire’ Category

Unlike the first time the St. Cloud City Council voted to censure George Hontos, this time they had the courage, if you can call it that, to vote in public. Nonetheless, it still was a disappointing display of bruised egos.

The good news is that the Council didn’t hide their vote. Now we know that the “ballots indicated Masters, Goerger, Paul Brandmire and Mike Conway voted ‘yes’ to censure Hontos; Steve Laraway and Lewis voted against censuring Hontos.”

I wish I was surprised that Masters and Goerger voted to censure Councilman Hontos but I’m not. Those 2 are the biggest disappointments on the Council. By far. I’d trade both of them for a bag full of Val’s French Fries and a chocolate shake. I’d consider the Val’s package a significant upgrade.

I’m most disappointed with Councilman Conway’s and Councilman Brandmire’s votes. Voting against the First Amendment is always wrong. A vote to censure Councilman Hontos was a vote against the First Amendment. It isn’t often that I agree with the ACLU but this time, I totally agree. It’s time the Council got back to governing by first principles. This vote was a vote on worst principles.

Rules 6-8 should be abolished ASAP. If the Council doesn’t vote to abolish those rules, then I wouldn’t be surprised if a court struck them down. Silencing the people’s representatives can’t be justified. That’s what the Council did last night. This shouldn’t shame Councilman Hontos. He did the right thing in speaking out. This vote should shame Councilmen Masters, Goerger, Brandmire and Conway.

Speaking of Councilman Hontos, he sent me this statement:

It was very evident this was an orchestrated action. I found it not surprising that some Councilmembers were aided by our City Attorney. I will look forward to the reaction from the ACLU. One important clarification Council member Conway misspoke in describing the open forum process. Here are the actual details, the meeting is adjourned, there are no minutes taken of what is said, there is no camera, and the individuals who speak are not listed in the minutes. That is different than what he stated.

On the deeper issue of turning off the cameras and adjourning the meeting before the public forum, I don’t know who’s hairbrained idea that was but that’s another thing that’s got to stop immediately. If the Council actually listened to the people, then they’d keep the cameras on, extend the speaking time from 3 minutes to 5 minutes and restore the forum to being part of the meeting. Finally, if it’s to have a meaningful impact, councilmembers should be allowed to respond.

At this point, I’m disgusted with the Council. They aren’t listening to their constituents. It’s time they started.

When the St. Cloud City Council voted to censure Councilman George Hontos, it may have violated Minnesota’s Open Meeting Laws. According to the article, “Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said the law is clear that a public body cannot vote by secret ballot.”

Needless to say, the City offered a different perspective:

In an email to the Times on Wednesday, City Administrator Matt Staehling said he, City Attorney Renee Courtney and City Clerk Seth Kauffman consulted Robert’s Rules of Order before the vote on Monday. “We agreed that the guidance recommended (that) the subject of the censure does not participate in the vote but can participate in the discussion and debate (and) the ballot should be by confidential ballot,” Staehling stated.

Robert’s Rules of Order are helpful when the law isn’t clear. In this case, Minnesota’s Open Meeting Laws are quite clear, clear enough for the Minnesota Court of Appeals to render a decision:

Anfinson cites a decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals in which the Mankato Free Press sued the city of North Mankato after the city refused to provide the names of job finalists for city administrator, conducted closed interviews with job finalists, and took a written straw vote to narrow the field of candidates; the results of that straw vote were not made public until later.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals wrote: “Secret voting denies the public an opportunity to observe the decision-making process, to know the council members’ stance on issues, and to be fully informed about the council’s actions.”

It’s one thing if the Council was voting to suspend a city employee. There are certainly times when a closed session would be required. Suspending or terminating an employee fits that situation. Telling a councilman that his First Amendment rights can be suspended by the government doesn’t fit that description.

Frankly, I want to know who voted that the City Council has the right to violate a person’s civil rights. Further, I want to know which jackasses voted to censure George Hontos. What Councilman Hontos did was entirely proper. City Council Rule No. 6, at least as much of it that is public, “states council members ‘respect the majority vote of the council, and do not undermine or sabotage implementation of ordinances, policies and rules passed by the majority.'”

That rule isn’t enforceable because it precludes a City Council member from representing his constituents by limiting his speech. How can any representative of the people effectively represent his/her constituents if he can’t voice his/her opinion on matters that’ve come before the board/legislature he/she serves on? That part of Rule No. 6 needs to be abolished because it’s unconstitutional.

Here’s the First Amendment’s text:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

How can the government stifle a person’s right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances”? The idea that the City Council insists that its members “respect the majority vote of the council” sounds nice but it doesn’t respect the rights afforded to the people by the Bill of Rights.

It’s more than a little frightening to think that St. Cloud’s lawmakers are this constitutionally illiterate. What’s encouraging is that Councilman Hontos has stated on the record for LFR that he “will continue to represent the constituents of St. Cloud as [he has] been doing for 18 years.” As long as Councilman Hontos keeps fighting for these principles, I’ll keep voting for him.

For years, conservatives have said that most decisions should be made at the local level. That’s what’s recommended by the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s because that’s where accountability is theoretically greatest.

That’s increasingly not the case. I don’t know if this is isolated but a prime example of local governments shielding themselves from criticism happens when they shut off the cameras. A prime example of this is the St. Cloud City Council turning off the cameras and officially adjourning the meeting before starting Open Forum. For those not familiar with St. Cloud’s Open Forum, it’s a segment of the meeting when citizens have the opportunity to talk about things that they see happening in their neighborhoods.

Most of these speeches complain about overreaching ordinances, complaints about things not getting done fast enough or criticisms about votes that councilmembers have taken. Suffice it to say, it isn’t fun for the councilmembers to hear these criticisms. Another ‘feature’ of St. Cloud’s Open Forum is that the City Council isn’t allowed to respond in real time to their constituents.

Where’s the accountability if the Council isn’t allowed to respond to their constituents? That’s why I’ve titled this post ‘the accountability dodge”. Based on what I’ve seen firsthand, this segment of the meeting isn’t about listening to the citizens. It’s a segment of the meeting where citizens can vent but where the councilmembers don’t have to respond.

This is just a theory but this feels like a way to avoid accountability. It’s apparent that the City Council, with a couple of exceptions (specifically, George Hontos and Paul Brandmire), would rather just meet, then cast their votes, then go their merry way. The quote from yesterday’s post that Councilman Hontos had violated City Council Rule No. 6 was particularly upsetting.

I don’t have the text of St. Cloud City Council Rule No. 6 in front of me but what I know about the Constitution is that anything that violates the First Amendment is unenforceable. Therefore, Rule No. 6 is unenforceable.

Further, I’d argue that voting on a non-binding censure resolution was a total waste of time, partially because it’s non-binding but also because this vote was taken in private session. That’s the ultimate in not accepting accountability. If City Councilmembers think this is important to vote on, they shouldn’t shut down public debate. They should vote in public, though.

That isn’t accountability. That’s the definition of gutlessness.

When it comes to the Constitution, lawyers should be relatively well-informed. John Ellenbecker is a long-time attorney in the St. Cloud area. In the interest of full disclosure, Ellenbecker and I were part of the same graduating class at Cathedral High School.

Ellenbecker’s constitutional ignorance was once again on display in this LTE’s comments when he said of Councilman Brandmire “In his Dec. 1, 2018 column in the Times Brandmire stated that he favors prohibiting additional Muslim settlement in St. Cloud (he described it as “I support the idea of closing the seemingly wide-open spigot of refugees coming here until we can assimilate those who are already here”) – which is contrary to his comment here. Closing the spigot is not a statement that you support a welcoming community. Closing the spigot is a violation of the constitutional rights of those he seeks to exclude from St. Cloud. Brandmire needs to clearly and unequivocally reverse his course and denounce efforts aimed at ‘closing the seemingly wide-open spigot of refugees coming here.'”

Having talked with Councilman Brandmire, I know that he understands that the City Council has an advisory role in the process, thanks to the Refugee Act of 1980. Saying that you support something isn’t the same as saying you’d overstep your authority. It simply means that he’d agree with that policy if that’s what the Trump administration settled on.

If Ellenbecker can’t figure out the difference between supporting something and writing an ordinance prohibiting refugees from getting settled here, then he went to the wrong law school. How is supporting a policy a violation of a refugee’s constitutional rights?

As for the statement that Councilman Brandmire’s statement isn’t “a statement that you support a welcoming community”, my questioning is ‘So what’? According to this website, the term welcoming community is kinda loaded:

The Standard will outline the policies, programs, and practices that local governments need to have in place —such as supporting new American civic participation; making services accessible; and engaging all residents, including both receiving communities and new Americans.

Apparently, conformity is required. If cities don’t conform, they don’t get certified. It’s impossible to hide the fact that WelcomingAmerica.com is about top-down, cookie-cutter government.

What part of that sounds anything like wisdom? The whole idea behind local government is to individualize policies to the greatest extent possible. WelcomingAmerica.com sounds like they operate from a federal government standpoint.

I strongly suggest that everyone read Councilman Brandmire’s op-ed. He doesn’t mince words nor does he sound unreasonable. It’s possible for people to disagree with him but it’s impossible to call him unreasonable.

As for Ellenbecker, he sounds like a Democrat who’s reading from DFL talking points. Whenever a Democrat talks about the Constitution, bet that it’s because it’s focus-group approved.

One thing that I didn’t mention when I wrote this post is the importance of constitutional republics. Without that system of government, what you’d really have is mob rule.

Let’s refresh your memory on what happened Monday night at the St. Cloud City Council meeting. BTW, why is so much happening at city council meetings this week? We’ll return to that later. At Monday night’s St. Cloud City Council meeting, members of various DFL front groups showed up with an anti-election agenda. Some of the DFL partisans asked for Paul Brandmire and Mike Conway to resign from their council positions. Others from these DFL front groups petitioned the Council to kick Mssrs. Brandmire and Conway off the Council.

The reason for those actions wasn’t specifically stated but it’s pretty clear why these DFL front groups want Brandmire and Conway gone. Both of these gentlemen have done their job by asking questions about the refugee resettlement program.

The crowd included members from the East Central Area Labor Council, TakeAction Minnesota and #UniteCloud, according to Jane Conrad, field representative for East Central Labor Council. Conrad called out council members Brandmire, who was quoted in the New York Times story, and Conway for being publicly sympathetic to the C-Cubed group that she calls “anti-refugee and anti-Muslim.”

It’s worth noting that C-Cubed isn’t funded by special interests. It isn’t an AstroTurf organization. It’s a legitimate grass roots organization. By comparison, TakeAction Minnesota, #UniteCloud and the East Central Area Labor Council are DFL front groups.

It’s worth noting that Jane Conrad is a longtime DFL activist/operative.

Owen Saucedo, a St. Cloud resident, spoke on behalf of the labor council. He asked both Brandmire and Conway to resign and if not, for the city council to censure them to show “it rejects bigotry in all its forms.”

That’s pretty drastic. There’s nothing bigoted about Brandmire or Conway. I’ve known both men a fair amount of time. I wouldn’t hesitate a split-second to state under oath that these men are men of integrity and not men with hostile animus.

Conrad and Saucedo both talked of Islamophobia and racism. How shameful. That’s the language of desperate people. It’s unsubstantiated. Worst of all, it’s the language of people who aren’t interested in winning a debate. Conrad especially just wants to win fights.

Winning a debate requires the ability to listen, persuasive logic and an understanding of what principles are most essential for the health of a society. Winning a fight just means being the biggest, baddest bad-ass in the fight. Right now, these DFL front groups aren’t equipped to win debates. They’re built to win fights. Winning fights is for juveniles. Winning debates is for adults.

In the meantime, I’ll just thank our Founding Fathers for giving us a constitutional republic, not mob rule.